There’s no broadband like home
June 25, 2005
A recent trip to New York served to remind me how spoiled we are here for broadband. There is seemingly not an office, home, motel, bookstore, restaurant, or coffeeshop from San Jose to San Francisco where you can’t get free wifi at will. They even have it on the Google commuter bus!
In contrast, we wasted the better part of a day in New York trying to find enough connectivity to sit down and plan the day. The trouble began in our hotel (The Time Hotel at 49th and Broadway, which I otherwise liked very much): for reasons we never figured out, Tim’s Powerbook could get Ethernet just fine but my Linux lappy could not. So we marched out into midtown in search of wifi; but one Barnes & Noble and two Starbucks later, we had to grumpily admit defeat. Let me just say that a big reason I patronize national chains is to get the same services at each one; so if they don’t meet my expectations the same at home and on the road, their value to me is reduced.
The coffeeshops claimed to have T-Mobile, which I would have been willing to pay for; but what they didn’t have is chairs. Maybe sophisticated Manhattanites have perfected the art of using ssh and imap while standing up at little counters — but this West Coast girl needs to sitz her fleisch next to a table with a caffeinated beverage on top to achieve true nirvana. In desperation, we actually made the hotel patch us through to RoadRunner tech support, who turned out to be utterly useless (“unplug the cable modem for 10 seconds…”). Finally, Ops Boy made me very happy by suggesting that we could use the Powerbook as a proxy for the Linux box via an ad-hoc wireless network and NAT table (aka connection sharing).
Another major disappointment was the Treo. And here I must particularly call out Yahoo Local, which works reasonably well for me at home but not on the device. Let’s say you are standing in the middle of midtown Manhattan looking for a place to eat lunch. It’s kind of disturbing that when I type “restaurants Times Square New York” and hit the “Local” search button on the WAP interface, I get: 1) a screen that asks me whether I want to search near Home, New York NY, Palo Alto CA, or Las Vegas NV; and then 2) a list of mostly hotels and a couple of restaurants. (Update: this only happens the first time you try this search. Subsequently you get 1) a list of different cities named New York in various states, so you can be sure you’re talking about New York NY rather than say New York KY; and 2) the same search results you’d get if you did the search on the web interface. Dunno if this is good or bad.) In any case, Yahoo Local was a total dud for helping me find a cool place to eat lunch, get a massage, have an expensive drink, or visit a museum. I had money to spend, guys! Help me spend it.
Much to my surprise, the country club hotel on Sand’s Point had free wifi. However, cellphone coverage was ass all around there. Since we basically only had one car for 12 people who had disparate errands to run all over the place, the lack of cellular coverage was a significant problem.
The whole long weekend made me realize how utterly dependent I’ve become on data infrastructure. All my daily habits have changed in ways that incorporate the Interweb and mobile. I don’t even use the landline or the fax machine, much less the guidebook and the newspaper and the Yellow Pages. And yet, every time I leave Silicon Valley I realize how incomplete this transition really is.